A Plague of Gadflies by Paul Emema, Visual Press, 2011
By Yinka Olatunbosun
To the making of books on corruption, there is no end. Much has been said about this societal misnomer but more people still have more things to say about the growing facets of its hydra-headed nature.
One of such persons who found a literary podium to stand in order to vocalise the truth about the sad state of the Nigerian political structure is Paul Emema.
His podium, A Plague of Gadflies, is a lucidly written satirical play that articulates facts of history as a lash on corrupt governmental structures. Using an oil-rich fictitious community in Isoko as its setting, the playwright examines the deep-seated corrupt practices in political appointments, the sheer disregard for rule of law and due process.
Emema, who transposes his television drama skills in the likes of Behind the Clouds, Supple Blues and I need to Know to stagecraft, likens corruption to a plague of gadflies which is hard to exterminate using hand slapping method.
Though the playwright at the book presentation did mention that the storyline was completed in 1993, against the backdrop of the prevailing tyrannical military rule, the reader today will undoubtedly encounter contemporary issues that invariably makes the play less relevance to the Nigeria of the last millennium and more relevant to the make-belief democratic rule of the day.
For instance, the clampdown on protesters in various parts of the country during the Occupy Nigeria protests in January 2012 is a likely mental picture formed when villagers in the play were being silence by the use of force. In the play, the Royal Blood constitutes a cabal in Ovrode headed by the authoritarian traditional ruler, Ovie Gideon Ogbighe Okumagba.
The villagers in a collective effort stage a violent protest against the corruption in governance by setting ablaze the houses of the corrupt Ovrode Chiefs of the Royal Blood and capturing their wives and children.
In Act One Scene IV, Ogbighe, also referred to as The Night Fox, ordered the killing of protesters on sight:
OGBIGHE: Yes, Edokpe.
(Turns to his army Chief Commander)
This very moment! I command you. Turn your guns on the villagers- all of them. You have the blessing of the gods of your land. Kill until the last of them begs for forgiveness.
COMMANDER: (salutes, standing to attention)
As the Night Fox commands. ( barks to his soldiers) Order!
OGBIGHE: And, take these two to my prison.
(points at Ovredeyen and his daughter)
No food, no water!
(his army is already carrying out his orders)
SAMSON: (looks at Ochonogo)
The battle line is drawn. After you.
The play described by Lloyd Beever during its presentation as ‘an eloquent piece of literature’ also exposes the inhumane practices of oil spillage, gas flaring and other unethical oil well exploration at the Niger Delta region.
The most out-spoken of the freedom fighters, Samson co-ordinated the villagers in a calculated effort of opening their eyes to the injustice that coloured the activities of foreignoil companies who work on the Niger-Delta soil solely for economic gain in
Act One Scene Three:
SAMSON: We have no more farmlands and our rivers bleed of grease. What the family of the Royal Blood want us to believe is that the white foreigners have been digging our land and rivers in search of their missing gods. (Laughter and murmurs). It’s all lies. Who ever heard of white man’s gods before?
OKUGBE: Our ancestors forbid and curse them.
SAMSON: Our hunters have given up hunting because the fire of the foreigners has driven our animals into neighboring forests. They call it gas!
They say it’s the name of one of their gods.
(the crowd roars with laughter)
OKUGBE: Bloody liars.
SAMSON: Painfully, the Night Fox and his men support these evil deeds; because money exchanges hands daily.
The language in the play is mostly characterised by the use of proverbs. Ogbighe expresses a mastery of these in his responses to enquiries made by his subjects.
Samson, the opposition leader Tapping from the elements of culture in the geographical region, a barren wife to Isaiah Akpojaro, Esther marries another woman, Awele for her husband for the purpose of procreation.
However, the play pans the socio-temporal world view of the traditional African setting that condemns a childless marriage and the continued union of childless couples.
Terming it as an off-shoot of western influence, the villagers mock Isaiah of the Royal blood for adhering to his personal principles while his wife is constantly singled out as the villagers’ object of a spate of mockery.
The 118-page drama is multi-scenery, opening with a scene at the river where Esther finds a wife for her husband. Songs, drums and dances constitute the other dramatic embellishments that heighten the mood of the drama.
The playwright had suggested at the book presentation in Lagos on March 1 that the play may not necessarily pose a challenge for theatre directors in spite of the play’s attention to details.
He, however, noted that the play was essentially written to be read, digested and applied in tackling the national crises issues raised.